Sunday, August 5, 2012
When I first met my amazing husband, adversity was my constant companion. I was alone... I was afraid... I lacked confidence... and I struggled with faith. Pessimism was infectious, and I was always "coming down with it". John came into my life and, over a significant period of time, our involvement evolved into a relationship based on the fundamentals of friendship. He was always there to inspire me and give me strength. During the darkest hours of my life... fear was the "captain of my soul".
During a particularly difficult time in my life, John said something that inspired me and strengthened me. I carry it in my heart, always... He said, "My dear, COURAGE is not defined by a lack of fear... Rather, it's the ability to act in spite of it"
Likewise... C.S. Lewis (one of my favorite authors and philanthropists) once said something poignant, and it has become one of my favorite quotes. Such a beautiful concept...
"COURAGE IS NOT SIMPLY A VIRTUE, BUT THE FORM OF EVERY VIRTUE AT THE TESTING POINT"...
I have elaborated to define courage as faith in the unknown... willingness to walk alone... optimism in the face of adversity... and acting on truth without regard for consequence...
This is dedicated to all of you who have exemplified the courage to be true to yourself, and to my beautiful daughter and the inspiration she has given me...
Friday, April 6, 2012
"YOU WERE NATURALLY BORN A BOY"... This was the assertion that laid the foundation for the 20/20 special presented in response to the controversy surrounding the transgender Ms. Universe contestant from Canada. "You were NATURALLY BORN a boy". I watched the program this evening, along with many other parents of transgendered youth... I watched to see where society stands with respect to this issue. Where are we going? What is being conveyed? What is understood?
It was the opening statement of the program, and the words "NATURALLY BORN" echoed in my heart. The statement was never clearly addressed, and the program flowed past the huge "purple elephant" that took center stage on my television screen. The program persisted... "What was your name"... "When did you change gender"... even the details regarding the surgical reconstruction of the genitals were discussed, as the transgender experience was microscopically dissected as if it were a tissue sample in a pathology lab. Yet.... the bold assertion that introduced the segment was left unscathed.
What does it mean to be "NATURALLY BORN"??? I grew up in Montana, land often referred to as "God's Playground"... a scenic representation of God's divinity. The land is "natural"... It's untouched, just as God created it. This is also what it means to be naturally born... an untouched SOUL... an individual who is divinely beautiful, just as God intended. If someone asks about an individual's "nature", do we respond by describing physical or spiritual attributes?
I was bothered by the statement that introduced the topic and established the focus of the program. The most important concept that needs to be conveyed is the fact that these individuals are "naturally born" as spiritual beings consistent with their gender identity... not with the gender that is assigned to them at birth. This concept is SO important that it annuls all others. If this precept is clearly understood, then the in-congruency between the body and soul wouldn't be an issue at all. Individuals born with gender in-congruency would not become a National media sensation every time they overcome insurmountable challenges to achieve success. Someone who succeeds, despite the adversity in life... someone who beats the odds... someone who overcomes the ridicule, torment, judgement, and discrimination of others... someone who "rises to the top", BELONGS AT THE TOP. Whether or not she is allowed to compete... whether or not she wins is insignificant. She doesn't need the crowning glory of others to prove who she is. She knows who she is. She has succeeded in who SHE is. On that merit alone, she's an icon and a role model.
I know that the only way that people are ever going to understand this experience is by proxy... through the testimony of those "called" to walk this path. People will never understand by relying on optical illusions to teach them. This understanding must come through a testament to the heart. This path is a pilgrimage for those of us who have been called to navigate through the road blocks, storms, and potholes in a grueling effort to succeed... the length of the journey, the mountains that must be climbed, and even the final destination remain unknown. Those of us who walk this path know ONE thing - we MUST take one step... then the next... then another. We must persist until we find it. The unknown requires faith, but through complete faith, we will reach the journey's end.
This little corner of the world, "Cammie's Song", is my personal outlet... my place to teach, to testify, and to grow. Four years ago this month, I met my nine year old daughter for the first time. In doing so, I had to face the reality that she always existed but I never knew she was there. Tonight I realized why the assertion "YOU WERE NATURALLY BORN A BOY" bothered me so much. For nine years I didn't understand the divinity of human "nature". My understanding was based solely on what I saw... not what I felt. I thought my daughter was "naturally born a boy". "Seeing to believe" was the source of my own deception. I have been blessed to gain a testimony of this sacred truth... Cammie was "NATURALLY BORN" a divine daughter of God. She is, ALWAYS HAS BEEN, and always will be my little girl.
Cammie's self-proclaimed anthem illustrates her experience...
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I grew up in a very small town, nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormons). In addition to being raised in a traditional Christian family, Mormonism was a way of life. I was happy as a member of the church... raised with a solid foundation of family values that included three hours of church on Sundays, Wednesday night Young Women's activities, Tithing, Callings, and the like. We had a strict health code that forbade drinking coffees and teas... caffeinated beverages were frowned upon and alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking were strictly prohibited. I wasn't allowed to attend school dances until I was fourteen years old. I wasn't allowed to date until I was sixteen. Abstinence until marriage was a beautiful part of the foundation of the family. My father served as a Bishop and as a Branch President, as well as multiple other leadership callings.
Young men in the church are strongly encouraged to serve a two year mission at the age of nineteen. This was a traditional expectation. All young men, considered worthy of the experience, were called to serve in areas around the world and within the continental United States... to teach and preach the gospel according to the training they received at the M.T.C. (Missionary Training Center) in Provo, Utah. At the M.T.C. young men were oriented for their mission. It was a grueling training period that could be surmised as "Spiritual Boot Camp". These young men spent endless hours studying the scriptures, learning how to teach established lesson material, and learning a foreign language (for those called to serve abroad). The training was intense and lasted a mere two to four months.
In the mission field, missionaries were prohibited from contact with the "outside world" with respect to watching television, listening to the radio, reading books not associated with the church, dating, calling home or friends, accessing the internet, watching movies, leaving their companion (all missionaries were assigned a companion), etc. For two years, these young men eat, sleep, and breathe the gospel as they proselyte to strangers and potential conversions. Both my older brothers served two-year missions... my eldest brother served in Bahia Blanca, Argentina and my other older brother in Milan, Italy.
I remember being in the Missionary Training Center with my oldest brother, Shaun. Mom and dad had purchased suits, ties, white shirts, socks, and other necessary items. We packed him up and drove to the M.T.C. where we entered a huge conference room full of young men with short haircuts; wearing crisp suits, ties, and freshly polished shoes. There were parents and siblings with tear-streaked faces. But what I remember the most is what I felt in my heart that day... the warmth and love that seemed to radiate from everyone in the room which was intensified by the presence of the precious spirit of God. After a brief religious service we said goodbye to my brother and watched him walk away, knowing we would not see him again for two years. My brother exited the conference room with great anticipation along with hundreds of other young men about to embark on the most remarkable spiritual journey of their lives. After a final embrace, all family members exited into the parking lot to begin a physical journey home. As a mother, I can only imagine what that experience must be like... the fear and anxiety that a parent must feel at that moment. Most importantly, I can imagine how proud my parents must have been of the son that had grown into a morally clean young man who loved God, lived gospel principles, and committed his time and hard earned money to serve Him for two years (Missions are not cheap and they are financed by the missionary and family).
The church was very regimented and structured. All lessons for each class were taught each Sunday according to lesson plans that were developed, then distributed, and implemented by the general authorities of the church each year. So, no matter where you attended church around the world, the lessons taught each week were the same.
Needless to say, there are a lot of spiritual guidelines and expectations that govern behaviors, actions, and attitudes of church members. Compliance to the standards of the church is strictly enforced by priesthood authorities. I love the L.D.S. church and I have a testimony and appreciation for so many of the things that I was taught as a practicing member of that gospel. My reluctance to face Cammie's condition was based in large part on the fear of being rejected by the one thing I loved more than anything (outside of my family)... my membership in the L.D.S. church. I had a testimony of the things that I had been taught and my life, up until that point, was structured on the foundation of those beliefs. I knew what the church's stance was with respect to Gays and Lesbians... I could only imagine the reaction I would receive when I approached my priesthood authorities about Cammie's gender identity.
I met with my Bishop on several occasions. I found that they were equally as frustrated, and for the first time in my life, I felt like a "hot potato". Nobody knew how to advise me in the situation, which invited discomfort and avoidance. In spite of it all, that experience became a profound blessing in my life. For the first time I stood completely alone at a major crossroad. I had to turn directly to God for the answers. In doing so I was forced to exercise faith, love, humility, and an unconditional willingness to follow His plan.
Needless to say, I spent endless days fasting and praying about the complexity of how to handle the in-congruency between Cammie's physical body and her self-proclaimed gender identity. I plead with God to give me strength. I will never forget that intimate monologue, or the words that I spoke over and over each day in desperate search for guidance... "This is not my child Father, she is yours. I am merely her mortal custodian. I believe I have been called to love and guide her through mortality for a reason, but the circumstances in her life far exceed my experience. I am limited by a temporal, mortal understanding. I know this test is part of your eternal plan, but I must have your guidance. Please show me the way. Help me know how to help her. Father... help me to understand your will." I spent several days, pleading with God to open my heart and mind to the truth that would guide us beyond that crossroad.
After what felt like an eternity, the answer came through a crystal clear impression that testified to my heart, mind, and spirit... "Love this child... even as I have loved you." I remember feeling both thankful and frustrated by the answer I received. I remember thinking, "Seriously Father??? That's the best you can do? Could you be any more vague?" Then I realized that God never dictates our actions or decisions. By doing so, He would deny us the greatest gift of our mortal existence and the sole purpose of life... utilizing our free agency to grow spiritually through adversity.
I was left to examine my relationship with God in order to understand my relationship with my child and what and how to guide her footsteps. After spending a considerable amount of time in thought and prayer, I came to understand profound truths. I realized that He loved me unconditionally... that His Eternal love was not based on the color of my hair, my body shape or size, the color of my skin, the shape of my toes, length of my nose, or health. I realized that the body is just a vessel... the vessel that carries our spirit through mortality. It does NOT define our spirit, and it certainly does NOT define our relationship with God. At that point the spirit testified to my heart that - as difficult as it was - I had to look with my eyes, but earnestly "see with my heart". When I looked past the imperfections of her physical body, something miraculous took place in my heart. For the first time in my life, I began to understand who she was... I began to see, truly see, her divine spirit. It took time to overcome my selfish fears of judgement and social expectation, to wholeheartedly embrace the spiritual being that existed within the confines of a body that did not reflect Cammie's spiritual identity.
As expected, the authorities of the church could not accept the decisions that I had made. I made a very difficult choice to let go of the traditions and practices that served as the foundation of my life for so many years. I walked away as I embraced my child's spiritual identity. For the first time I found myself completely isolated from the only truths I had ever known. I stepped into the uncertainty of a new life with blind faith that God would provide the answers and guide each step of our journey. That choice caused me to lose the love and support of the majority of my family, and many of my friends, who condemned me for the decisions that I had made. The Lord had testified sacred truths to my heart that I could not deny regardless of social consequence. As difficult and lonely as it was, I could not forsake that truth. I continue to follow the guidance of my Heavenly Father, and in doing so, my life has been blessed.
I have thought of Christ's loneliness in Gethsemane. I have thought about what he experienced as he sacrificed his own life for our eternal salvation. I have thought about his unconditional love. I know that he will always be there... that he understands the isolation that I have felt. He knows what I experience each day. Christ testified of the things he knew to be true, regardless of the consequence... a consequence that cost him his life. If he could sacrifice his life out of love for me, I can follow his example and testify of the truth revealed through sacred, humble moments in prayer.
My heart still aches for my own personal loss... but I also rejoice in the peace in my heart and the blessings in my life. God is good, and he continues to hold my hand. I asked to have our names removed from the records of the church. The request was honored. I am nothing more than a "ghost" from the past on the records of the L.D.S church. There are times when my heart aches over that loss... loss of traditions... loss of community... loss of friendships... loss of family relationships... and the loss of the belief that one day I would be standing in the M.T.C. with each of my children, tears running down my cheeks, and watch them walk out the door in the M.T.C with the knowledge that they had committed two years of their life to serving others...
Matthew: 25:40 "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
God has taught me many truths throughout my life. I am thankful for the testimony that I have, for all that I have learned, for the values taught in my youth, the blessings of each new day, and the strength and courage to embrace the future with optimism. We are blessed with opportunities to serve others every day, and inasmuch serve the Lord. Serving the Lord is not merely a two year calling, it can be a lifelong blessing.
Today, I found something interesting that I felt compelled to share. A retired surgeon, and L.D.S. High Priest, posted a comment on the blog of an L.D.S. man who had written a post that addresses the complexity of reconciling the position of the church with the experience of those who struggle to be seen for who they are, and not what they appear to be. This is what he wrote...
Post URL: http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2009/07/pondering-complexities-of-transgender.html
I am an active LDS High Priest and retired/disabled general surgeon. I have come to believe that transsexuals are part of a spectrum of disorders that resemble intersex abnormalities.
In doctors presented with a child with ambiguous genitalia recommended exploratory surgery to determine whether the child had ovaries or testis and to examine their internal genital anatomy. A decision was made regarding whether this infant's anatomy was mostly male or mostly female. A gender was assigned and surgery was performed to enhance the external appearance of one sex or the other.
That method of handling intersex person with ambiguous genitalia was eventually abandoned. Instead, infants with ambiguous genitalia and/or sex chromosome abnormalities were allowed to mature until they began to identify themselves as either male or female.
The sexual self-identity of a child is usually expressed clearly somewhere between the ages of 4-6. Now only when a CHILD is clear on what sex he or she THINKS he or she is, is surgery or hormonal therapy allowed to enhance that child's self perception of his or her sex. This policy has been regarded as so critical to desirable medical and surgical outcomes for persons with ambiguous genitalia that the UN has issued a policy statement on the matter.
In person with ambiguous genitalia or intersex conditions, THE CHILD determines his or her sex, not doctors and not parents and not bishops or other church leaders.
I believe the same policy should apply to trans-children who tell their parents, many around age 4, that they are a male or a female despite having genitalia that would suggest otherwise. This condition has been associated in the medical literature with trauma to the mother-child bond at an early age in some cases but also with intra-uterine exposure to what are called hormone disruptor's.
Hormone disruptor's are generally substances that have an estrogenic or anti-androgen effect on fetuses and include environmental estrogen from women on birth control pills or cattle placed on estrogen to fatten them for market, DES (diethylstilbesterol) banned in the 1960s, lead--leaded gasoline was banned in the 1970s--DDT, also banned in the 1970s, and other insecticides, and PCBs, a common environmental contaminant around plastic manufacturing plants. Genetic mutations and exposure to mutagens like radiation and a host of drugs now banned for use during pregnancy may also play a role.
In the case of DES, 1/4 of males exposed to this compound, which was placed in prenatal vitamins that were available without a prescription from the late 40's until it was banned, were transsexual, transvestite, or gay.
Animal studies confirm these findings both in the laboratory and in environmental studies. Unfortunately, the general public seems to more concerned about transsexual fish, amphibians, and birds than they are about transsexual humans.
Coming to earth from the spirit world during the last days when pollutions would abound, as Moroni prophesied, must have been a daunting decision for those would face the consequences of coming to a polluted mortal world in which the brain could have a gender that was different from the physical body.
It makes perfect sense to me that a premortal female spirit might be placed in a male-appearing body that had a female brain sex. The mind-spirit connection, again, I believe would trump any incongruity of the mind-body or the spirit-body connection.
I believe the public in general and the church in particular need to become aware of these findings and consider not only toleration but facilitation and assistance in helping these individuals achieve congruity and happiness in their lives, preferably at an early age rather than as an adult trying to cope with a sexual identity that has been thrust on him or her through social intimidation or physical and mental abuse.
James L. Hopkins, MD
I thank God for those with the humility to know that they do not know the will of God in all things. I thank God for those who do not understand but recognize and accept the difficulty of this experience and exemplify Christ-like attributes through unconditional love for others. I thank God for those who refrain from judgement. I thank God for those who have taken the time to learn and grow with us. Most importantly... I thank God for all of those who have loved us, supported us, lifted us up when we were down, and "lightened our load"... I thank God for our friends and sincerely pray that He will bless the lives of those who lack understanding. After all, there was a time in my own life when I did not understand the complexity of our circumstance. I thank God every day that he opened my heart, enlightened my spirit, and "introduced me" to the divine nature of my child.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
My grandmother was the kind of grandmother that you read about in fictional fairy-tales and books... the grandmother that loved to see you coming... the one who baked cookies, and hosted family gatherings. Every Christmas Eve, Sunday after church, Fourth of July, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve - and the like - was spent at her house. Thirty to forty family members would crowd in; folding chairs and tables, set up for the kids in the living room and on the screened in front porch. After we'd finish eating, the ladies would do the dishes and clean up the kitchen while everyone else lay around trying to overcome the indigestion from overeating. Once the cleaning was done, it was game time... out would come the Scrabble, Dice, Cards, Chess board, and Monopoly. We'd play games until late in the evening, and then the children would drift off to sleep, while the adults would sit around and reminisce about the "Good Old Days", sharing fond memories. What I remember most was the laughter and the joy of frequent family reunions. You could say she was the "super glue" that bound the family. She was the matriarch and the core of our lives for many, many years.
I remember all the times I came home from school. I had to walk past her house on my way home... and I would always stop by to visit. I would gently knock on the door, turn the handle, and crack it open... then enthusiastically announce my arrival with love and affection... "Christina's here!" Even at the tender age of four, she would take the time to listen... while hanging intensely on every word with an unspoken delight. If I had a bad day, she would warm my spirits with her secret family recipe... molasses cookies with icing, and she never forgot the cup of milk.
Our entire family - aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived within a mile of one another. I grew up with seven cousins; Scott, Russell, Pam, Trixi, Dustin, Nathan, and Tiffany. I also had three brothers and a sister; Shaun, Corey, George Brandon, and Heather Lee. There was an old dirt road that ran up the canyon of the Rocky Mountains where we lived called Mulky Gulch... and we became known as the "Mulky Gulch Gang". The gang would gather in the summer and engage in dirt clod fights, make mud pies, explore the valley, go rock climbing, bass fishing, float the Clark Fork River on inner-tubes, build forts, and ride ATV's, One year the Clark Fork River nearby flooded the frontage road and we had to paddle around in canoes. When the flood was over, the boys scavenged the riverbed for large scraps of metal, wood, and anything that could be used to construct a fort. Grandma, always so vivacious and young at heart, was never a stranger to participation. She'd join in the fun and embrace every adventure. She put on her grubs and went out to the wood pile with the boys and played "contractor" while directing, and supervising the construction of what ended up being a three story fort, built into the woodpile with, two rooms at the base, and a lookout at the top. That fort provided years of adventure, and I believe it still stands to this day... a legacy of sorts.
In the winter we would bundle up like NASA astronauts, construct protective walls with buckets of packed snow, and engage in some brutal snowball fights. We would wax up the old runner sleds then build jumps at the base of, what could only be described as, "Death Mountain" which - too - has left behind many beloved scars that bring back the memories. We would slide down the mountain on inner-tubes, and tow them behind the ATV's... of course, the goal was always to "dismantle" the fools in tow, which also resulted in a scar or two... as well as a few minor concussions. Grandma was never one for cold weather, so she'd bake cakes and cookies, and make hot chocolate to warm us up at the adventures end.
Is it any wonder that I miss that remarkable woman? Growing up, she was my best friend. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. She fought a valiant fight, but eventually the cancer metastasized and she moved onto a new spiritual plane on New Year's Day, 1995. I was living in New York City at the time, and came home for Christmas to see her. I bought her a dozen Baby Doll Roses... you know, the cream roses with pink edges on the petals. They were always her favorite. When I arrived at her house, which could only be described as "home away from home", I knocked at the door, cracked it open, and - announced my arrival as I had throughout my childhood, "Christina's here!" The house was full of family, as it had always been in the past. But where there was once laughter... there were tears and intense emotional grief. I stayed until New Year's Eve, due to catch the next flight back to New York. I knew I would never see her alive again. She was fading away with each new day... and she was suffering, but not from pain... from the thought of saying goodbye forever. She had been the center of our universe for so many splendid years full of joyous memories. I remember leaving for the last time. I leaned over the hospital bed for a final embrace. She reached up with her weak, frail arms, wrapped them around my neck, and expressed her unconditional love for me as the tears flooded my face. Then she whispered her final words... words that resonate in my heart today. She spoke softly in my ear... "Always remember to be my good girl". That was the last thing she said to me before I left that day. She died that night in her sleep. I have often wondered if I have lived up to that expectation... if I have made her proud. Cammie is named after her... Cammie Elaine. Ironically, she has her incredible strength, courage, passion, devotion, and sense of humor. When I look at her, I pray that she will continue to live a life that reflects such beautiful attributes.
So, THANK YOU GRANDMA... for always taking the time to listen and share... for never complaining, always looking on the bright side of life, and illustrating the pure love of Christ... for living each day with purpose... for never giving up on the ones that you loved... for your relentless smile and beautiful spirit... for your patience with God's plan... for exemplifying courage during times of trial... for getting dirty, playhouse blueprints, molasses cookies, crazy cake, fairy villages, Anne of Green Gables, rock climbs, and fun on the Clark Fork... for games of horseshoes and Fourth of July picnics... for curlers in your hair, games of dice, baby dolls made from craft scraps,, birthday wishes, holiday kisses, and joyous family gatherings... for keeping us fed.... for teaching me that everyone has something to give... And last, but not least, FOR FAITHFULLY ENDURING TO THE END.
My grandparents were young and in love, but my grandmother's father disliked the rugged cowboy who had fallen desperately in love with his daughter. They were determined to marry, so with a pocketful of cash, and a youthful dream of "Happily ever after"... they ran away together and married in Coeur d'alene, Idaho . Their dreams materialized through a long and prosperous marriage of over forty years, with six children, and twenty-one grandchildren. I picked this song as a tribute to them. It was sung at her funeral, accompanied by a beautiful slideshow that captured the magical essence of her life. Always remember, "Everyone has something to give"...
Thursday, October 13, 2011
No matter how difficult life becomes, there is always someone with a greater challenge... a steeper mountain to climb... more dragons to slay... and more hurdles to leap. Humanity is limited by a temporal perspective, while God; knowing all things... seeing all things... and teaching all things... provides the necessary experience (perceived, both good and bad) for spiritual development. When faced with temporal, mortal challenges... some of life's greatest questions often creep into the heart and soul, "Why is my life such a burden while others are fortunate enough to experience the bliss of a carefree existence? What have I done to deserve this? Why me?" Then the MOST DANGEROUS OF ALL, "If there were a God... he wouldn't allow this to happen."
Inevitably, the four "D's" infiltrate the soul, consuming our thoughts and actions while eroding the very foundation of faith. They are the four major pitfalls to inner peace and tranquility. Actualized by trials and tribulations... Discouragement, Despair, Depression, and Despondency jeopardize our mortal experience with - yet - another "D"... spiritual DESTRUCTION. Albert Einstein once said, "Mortality is of the highest importance - but for us, not for God." It's a simple thought with profound significance. Mortality can be identified as a tangible, physical, intellectual experience. If mortality is insignificant to God, then what is eternally important? PERFECT FAITH... simply said; but a difficult concept to embrace, accept, and implement in life. It requires dedicated acceptance that His eternal perspective... purpose... wisdom... and plan is unequivocally perfect.
Several years ago I was in the city with my young son. We were standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change that would signal safety in crossing the street. He became extremely bored (as most children do when forced to stand still with hustle-bustle all about). Within moments, he was trying to wriggle his tiny fingers from the security of my hand. When the attempt proved unsuccessful, he dropped to the ground, screaming to illustrate his defiance. What a perfect illustration of our relationship with God. A young, naive, innocent child wanted to be "set free" to roam about the city without any regard for the danger and consequence of such actions. My perspective was mature. I was all knowing and Omnipotent in the situation. My son refused to cooperate for the rest of the day... angry, and determined to demonstrate his rebellious independence. Did I deserve his tirade, and persistent demonstration of rebellion throughout the day? I love him, refused to let go of his hand, and in doing so, protected him from danger. Regardless of his tyranny, I understood that his understanding was limited and loved him nonetheless.
Consider, for a moment, the parallel of that situation to our relationship with the Lord. How do we react to God? Do we attempt to let go, drop to the ground in defiance determined to wriggle free from the safety of His hand? Do we get angry with a horrific display of defiance. Does a lack of understanding dictate our actions and attitude? Reacting to life, based on a temporal perspective, inevitably results in spiritual rebellion and defiance, and impedes the possibility for spiritual growth and development... the sole purpose of mortality.
This post is extremely theological in nature. Lately, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on my life... my spiritual journey... what I have learned... what I have yet to learn (which scares the hell out of me), and the hallmark question abounds, "Will the Lord ever be satisfied with what I have learned to offer respite from adversity?" I have come to realize that I will never comprehend the Lord's eternal purpose with clarity. I am trying to walk hand in hand with the Lord, abandon rebellion, and embrace faith.
Some things that life has taught me...
1. LIFE'S PURPOSE: I am here to make you feel normal. It's a service I provide free of charge... you're welcome!
2. TITHING: God knows my weakness for shopping... and He knows I am not good at managing money. We have agreed that he will keep His 10 percent up front, bless me with 90, and call it "payroll deduct"! No "collections".
3. PATIENCE: If God wanted me to have patience... He is the creator - why not include a little in the recipe? It's a very important ingredient! Patience is to life, what a bathroom is to a house. Who would build a house and forget to include the bathroom in the blueprint? It's a heck of a lot of work to "Go back to the drawing board" and reconstruct!!! In the beginning, most of the Lord's creations were idiots (practice makes perfect!). Once he mastered the skill, the rest of you came along! Because I lack patience... I trampled Peter, Paul, and ten other dudes - screaming, "Ladies first!" until I made it to the front of the production line!
4. PAID TIME OFF: I believe for every month we live a good life, we should accrue the benefit of spiritual vacation and sick-leave. When life becomes unbearable, I believe we should be able to submit a request for sick and/or vacation time... even implement P.S.L.A. (The Personal Spiritual Leave Act).
5. GOD HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR: The zoo is a curious place... instead of the zoo, it should be called, God's Amusement Park. Consider the Ostrich, for example... the most eccentric display of a wicked sense of humor. A huge bird with wings that cannot fly, and when it gets scared... it sticks its head in the dirt and thinks it's getting away! Zebra's... seriously... God's attempt at abstract art. Giraffes... enough said.
GOD IS GOOD... So no matter what comes our way, if we embrace opportunities to learn with enthusiasm. Wise people learn from experience, but a genius learns from the experiences of others. Avoid my rationalizations. No matter what the experience may be, life WILL be good too. Albert Einstein once said, "God doesn't play dice". Everything happens for a reason.... we need to accept it and embrace it. One of my favorite authors and theologists once said...
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way."
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Cammie performed the best in the "boys" high jump. It is certainly not surprising that a child who has had to face so much adversity and heartache in her young life would "rise above" the competition. She is full of determination and every day of her life is driven by courage. She competed in the 800 yard dash. After the first 300 yards, the emotional weight of everything on her shoulders (the circumstances in her life, being forced to compete among the boys, and being different in ways that few understand) taxed her spirit. For the first time in months, I could see discouragement take hold and the quick strides of her long beautiful legs turned into weakened steps of despondency. She put her hands behind her head and began to walk, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was overwhelmed with emotional pain and her short steps slowed even more as she contemplated walking off the track. I stood helpless and breathless in the stand, my own heart sunk with sadness. My dad taught me many truths, but the one that stood out at the moment is the fact that a parent is only as happy as their most unhappy child.
I don't know why but at that moment I became angry... not at Cammie... just angry. I closed the video camera, threw it in my bag, then ran as fast as I could to the edge of the field away from the other parents, coaches, and spectators where she was rounding the bend. Like a parent demanding a child clean their room, stop fighting, do their homework, or finish their supper, I began to shout at her. I couldn't stand by and watch her give up. She had come too far. This race was much more than a "race" to her. It was an assertion of her identity... her individuality. I started to shout, "CAMMIE ELAINE!!!" (children always know parents "mean business" when they scream the first and middle name in unison). "CAMMIE ELAINE!!! YOU WILL FINISH THIS RACE!!! I DON'T CARE IF YOU WIN OR LOSE... BUT YOU WILL FINISH THIS RACE!!!" She was within feet by then and she shot me the "drop dead" look that all parents are familiar with, but I didn't stop. I continued to shout at her, encourage her, then - once again - DEMAND that she finish.
Humiliated and discouraged, she crossed the finish line... dead last. When she walked off the field I embraced her, wiped her tears, hugged her, and told her how proud I was.
I don't know why I reacted the way I did. I have thought about that day many times. I suppose I wanted Cammie to know that it didn't matter to me weather she won or lost... in my heart, all that mattered, is that she step off of that field with the same conviction that she carried when she stepped out there to compete. She has been a young pioneer in a battle that few have the strength to fight. I am proud of her conviction, faith, and determination to succeed and overcome the challenges in her life. I simply couldn't bare to watch her quit.
I have four children, three of whom have significant challenges in their lives and special needs... Tourette Syndrome, Autism, and - of course - Cammie. Each of them has had to face an exhausting mountain of adversity, and with each step, THEY have strengthened me. They remind me what life is about. My father used to say, "There are many different paths to the final destination, but once the journey is over... "HOW" we got there will NOT matter... it's what we do along the way that counts. There are no "winners" or "losers". ALWAYS find the strength to FINISH and NEVER FORGET to help others along the way.
My heart was full of love and I was humbled by her courage and strength when she took her place on the team, a team of boys, wearing french-braided pigtails tied up with yellow and white polka-dotted ribbon. I have never been more proud than I was that day when she stepped on that field. In my heart, she had won the competition before it began. She stood tall... first in courage, strength, determination, and conviction. She is truly the master of her fate... she is the CAPTAIN of HER SOUL, and I thank God every day because, despite all of my faults and shortcomings, he loved me enough to entrust her to my care.
|OUT of the night that covers me,|
|Black as the Pit from pole to pole,|
|I thank whatever gods may be|
|For my unconquerable soul.|
|In the fell clutch of circumstance||5|
|I have not winced nor cried aloud.|
|Under the bludgeonings of chance|
|My head is bloody, but unbowed.|
|Beyond this place of wrath and tears|
|Looms but the Horror of the shade,||10|
|And yet the menace of the years|
|Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.|
|It matters not how strait the gate,|
|How charged with punishments the scroll,|
|I am the master of my fate:||15|
|I am the captain of my soul.|
~William Ernest Henley
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Well, it's nearly midnight and I'm awake in a quiet house... a house filled with the chatter of my thoughts and the love in my heart. I got off work late and had to go to Walmart to buy some Gatorade, snacks, running shorts, socks, and - of course - yellow ribbon with white polka dots for Cammie's french braids tomorrow. She made the track team at school and tomorrow she will compete with children from all of the schools in the county... on the boy's team.
Tomorrow I will wake up bright and early - shower and get ready, braid her beautiful blond hair and tie it up with the cute yellow ribbon that screams "CAMMIE ELAINE IS HERE!" Every courageous step she takes in life boldly announces her existence and purpose with the same unspoken sentiment.
I will drive her to the school where she will get on the bus, then follow the crowd of competitive kiddos to the school (a good distance away) where the track meet is being held, park in the parking lot with the rest of the parents, and find a seat in the observation stand. Garbed with the typical video and camera equipment, sunglasses, and ball-cap... I will shout, whistle, and cheer louder than any parent in my own personal competition to convey love and support as my little girl takes her place on the track with all of the boys. She will take her place and run with every bit of strength in her little body to win the race in an effort to prove that you could "cram her in a blue box made of steel", but she'd burst right out because diamonds can cut through anything.
I am in awe at her courage and overwhelmed by her conviction. NOTHING in life seems to intimidate her or hold her back. She's more stubborn than a pack of mules and more determined than anyone I've ever known. She's got something special, and it only takes a moment in her presence to recognize it. Her spirit is radiant and she shines, leaving a lasting impression on those blessed to know her... truly know HER.
I was thinking about life in it's true analytical sense and the proverbial "race" it represents, and the words of my father from years ago echoed in my heart and quieted my fear and anxiety over what will be, a very public statement of her identity... "It doesn't matter who wins or loses, or how someone makes it through the race. In the end, all that really matters is the good you do along the way that will guide you to the finish line."
It doesn't matter if Cammie wins tomorrow, or loses the race. In my heart, she has already won. She's got courage, conviction, and passion. She believes in herself and loves life. Nothing stands in her way. She's not afraid to be the beautiful child that God created her to be, and in that event... she has already won first place.
Monday, April 4, 2011
I was remodeling (and cleaning) Cammie's room while she was away at the beach with her best friend for spring break. She just had a birthday and I wanted it to be a surprise. While I was "mucking out" and organizing the entourage of girl's things, clothes, dolls, trash, and trinkets... I found a couple of precious keepsakes among, what can only be described as the rubble of childhood. These precious expressions were buried under clothes and toys, as if the emotions they captured were so commonplace they lacked significant meaning to her... but as I read each treasure, my heart swelled with love and gratitude at the gift God has given me. With each written expression, I was taught something truly profound. Through blessed insight... I was given a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of her world, her experience, her beautiful heart, and her precious perspective. What an amazing, strong, and gifted child God has given me. I'm thankful for all that she has taught me, what she continues to teach me with each new day, and all of the precious truths she has inspired in my life. I wanted to take a moment to share "The pearls cast amidst the swine"...
Since this is difficult to read in such small font, I am dictating it...
By: Cammie Elaine Johnson
I am imaginative and gifted...
I wonder what it's like to be a tree wondering in a meadow
I hear a rainbow growing overhead
I see the shadows moving without a source
I want love and peace around the world.
I am imaginative and gifted...
I pretend to go through walls
I feel the spirits of love wrapped around me
I touch the universe with every step I take & every move I make
I worry about the hate of love hidden in every corner
I cry when I'm feeling down on special days.
I am imaginative and gifted...
I understand no two shadows are alike
I say I will grow bold and strong for life
I dream about drifting in the clouds on wonderful days
I try to be my inner beauty even when I'm not
I hope it begins in me...
I am imaginative and gifted.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Ants, although not often welcome at picnics, are incredible critters. Just a few inspirational facts...
Like all insects, ants have six legs. Each leg has three joints. The legs of the ant are very strong so they can run very quickly. If a man could run as fast for his size as an ant can, he could run as fast as a racehorse. Ants can lift 20 times their own body weight. Adult ants cannot chew and swallow solid food. Instead they swallow the juice which they squeeze from pieces of food. They throw away the dry part that is left over. The abdomen of the ant contains two stomachs. One stomach holds the food for itself and second stomach is for food to be shared with other ants.
The job of the queen is to lay eggs which the worker ants look after. Worker ants are sterile, they look for food, look after the young, and defend the nest from unwanted visitors. Ants are clean and tidy insects. Some worker ants are given the job of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it outside in a special rubbish dump! Each colony of ants has its own smell. In this way, intruders can be recognized immediately.
At night the worker ants move the eggs and larvae deep into the nest to protect them from the cold. During the daytime, the worker ants move the eggs and larvae of the colony to the top of the nest so that they can be warmer. If a worker ant has found a good source for food, it leaves a trail of scent so that the other ants in the colony can find the food.
I admire ants. I have been asked during interviews if I could be any non-human living thing what would I choose to be? I have always said, "an ant". Trust me... until I explain, I get some pretty strange looks. One of my favorite quotes follows...
Ants can carry quite an insurmountable burden, and they do so every day. Their incredible strength, tenacity, and endurance enable them to work quickly and efficiently. They are extremely intelligent and productive. They extract the good, utilize it, and discard what is useless. They are are selfless and generous. They understand the value of community service. They are nurturers and devout caretakers. They are protectors. They are organized, efficient, and resourceful. They understand the value of conservation and preparation. Through a commitment to teamwork, they are dedicated to being part of a "collective whole". They are committed to a common purpose to build something great.
What if humanity shared such remarkable attributes? How beautiful our communities and societies would be if we could appreciate our burdens, regardless of their weight... If we could learn to extract the good in life and discard the bad... If we could realize the importance of sharing, nurturing, caring, hard-work, discipline, and endurance. Most importantly, what if we could embrace the reality that we are not here to succeed INDIVIDUALLY... that we are merely a part of a much greater "whole". What if everyone realized the value of service? What if everyone could realize that we are an extension of one another? Just imagine what a beautiful place the world would be...
Unfortunately... I am not an ant. There are days I feel overwhelmed, sneak away from the colony, find a comfortable hide-out, throw aside the burden on my shoulders, and digest the contents of my second stomach!
I often find myself frustrated, soul searching, exploring the value of faith, and trying to solve some of life's most complex equations. I have always had difficulty "letting go". I often struggle to dictate circumstance and situations beyond my control... "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink." Damn Horses!!! I despise anything more stubborn than me, which includes most things that can't be turned off by a key or controlled with a remote.
FAITH is the foundation of a happy life. Before we can develop faith, we have to learn Patience. UGH! This has ALWAYS been my greatest challenge. God has been trying to teach me this concept for thirty-six years. Like the horse that won't drink, I'm not the least bit thirsty! It doesn't make any sense!!! If God wanted me to have patience, why didn't he "mix a little in"??? I am the result of His attempt to make something from scratch! Take a good look at me... stick with the recipe!!!
Seriously, it's the equivalent of building a house, then realizing that you forgot to include bathrooms. Instead of going through the trouble of revising the blueprint and redesigning the structure (which can take over thirty-six years!!!), go with the simplified route... build an outhouse!!!
Given my stubborn nature, and difficulty learning some of mortality's most valuable concepts... I've been assigned a front-row seat in "Spiritual Special Ed." for life's learning disabled. (A little friendly advice... If at any time you find yourself detained to my class, never... NEVER... cheat off my paper!)
I look around at other young mothers my age. On the surface they seem to have it much less complicated... their life seems so simple... their children so, so, perfectly "normal". There are times when I feel absolutely overwhelmed by the unconditional love that I feel for my children, and the helplessness that serves as love's constant companion. It's difficult to watch my children struggle... Tourette Syndrome, high functioning Autism, ADHD, OCD, and gender variance (which has presented the most significant challenges, given the lack of social support and understanding associated with this condition).
I am one person... I am merely a mother... and there are days that I feel completely and utterly inadequate. I have told myself (repeatedly) to never question God, especially when it comes to the blessings and opportunities in my life... but without patience it's extremely difficult and the questions abound... Why would one mother have to face so many uphill battles while others seem to have it so easy? Why do I have to suffer heart wrenching feelings of helplessness, and complete inadequacy?
I am proud to say that I've finally figured it out... (Although, when times get tough I suffer from frequent bouts of selective amnesia... and the "epiphany" I had today, may completely elude me tomorrow). The most difficult challenges in life are humbling, through humility we become teachable, and when we become receptive to learning... we are blessed with new opportunities for interpersonal growth.
My children are my world and it's my job to help them to understand that "LIFE just wouldn't be a PICNIC without the ANTS..." God has blessed each of us with the strength to bear each and every burden in our lives. Those "burdens" have a purpose... they reveal what we need to learn. What we commit to learn is our greatest resource. That education becomes the most precious gift in life. It's important to accept the things we cannot control, while making the most of everything we can! I hope that one day I will come to understand my significance, the value of my effort and the experiences in my life. I hope to utilize the "burdens" on my shoulders to contribute to the world around me... to make it a better place... and, in doing so, I hope to realize that every "load" is worth the effort. I pray that, through my example, I will be able to teach this profound truth to my children. May they...
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Ernest Hemingway has always been a fascinating author of classic literature. In a high school assignment titled, "Authors of Influence", I selected Hemingway. Here we have an iconic man - an all American hero, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize. He was extremely accomplished, yet a complicated and profoundly troubled man. A man of knowledge, philosophy, learning, and literary expression... who had so many demons - that even his brilliance, intellectual genius, and philosophical depth - could not quiet the voices in his head or expel the conflict from his tortured soul. The Hemingway family is the source of a lot of curiosity and speculation. Hemingway, his father, sister, and brother all committed suicide.
He came from an extremely affluent family. His father was a doctor and his mother was a musician. During his childhood, his mother dressed him in girls clothes - a twin to match his sister... something that impacted him throughout his life. He despised his mother and when he spoke of her, he always referred to her as, "the bitch". As he grew into adulthood, his troubled childhood had a profound effect on him, and he overcompensated in a heroic display of masculine and macho behaviors. He was married four times, had countless affairs, and fathered four children.
The youngest of Hemingway's children was Gregory Hemingway - a talented and athletic child that Ernest affectionately called Gigi. Gregory was gender variant. This aspect of his life was exposed when Ernest walked in on the ten year old boy, discreetly dressed in his mother's taffeta gown and nylons. Ernest went into a tirade of wrath. This experience set the stage for Gregory's "closet" gender behaviors. He devoted much of his life to trying to meet his father's expectations. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, he attended medical school and became a doctor. He spent hundreds of thousand of dollars, underwent multiple treatments with shock therapy, eventually succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse (which led to the revocation of his medical license), and had several nervous breakdowns in an attempt to reconcile his identity with the expectations of his father. Despite it all, his inability to find an effective "cure" eventually destroyed the father-son relationship altogether.
At the time of Ernest's suicide, the two were not on speaking terms and Gregory had not seen his father since he was 19 years of age. Gregory was quoted as saying, "I never got over a sense of responsibility for my father's death, and the recollection of it sometimes made me act in strange ways." Following his father's funeral, Gregory expressed conflicted emotion... both through deep devastation evoked by the loss, as well as a profound relief. He was later quoted as saying, "I have to admit, I felt somewhat relieved when my father's body was lowered into the ground... never again would I disappoint the old man."
Gregory saw multiple psychiatrists in an effort to cure his "diseased mind". While living a life of obscurity, cross-dressing in secrecy... he experienced four failed marriages and fathered eight children. In his late 60's, during the final years of his life, Gregory underwent gender reassignment surgery and presented herself publicly as Gloria to many of her friends. Shortly thereafter, she was charged with indecent exposure and confined to a woman's detention center. The bail was set at a mere one thousand dollars... regardless of the value of her estate, seven million dollars, nobody bailed her out or came to her aide. On the morning of her court appearance, one week following her arrest, she collapsed to the cement floor of her cell and died of, what was later determined to be, natural causes brought on by cardiovascular disease.
Perhaps, what I consider to be Hemingway's most profound quote follows:
"Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don't cheat with it."
I spent most of the day "licking my wounds" so-to-speak, and refused to get out of bed... overcome with self-pity. With each minute that passed, I became more bitter and my resentment grew as I looked to the lives of others to determine what is and is NOT fair, as well as what should and should NOT exist in my life. I was angry... "To hell with you God!" seemed to be the theme of the day. After some thoughtful consideration, I remembered the words of my sister from a similar time in my life, long ago. She said, "If you are unhappy, then you are ungrateful."
My philosophy on life has developed and evolved over time. What I have come to realize is that many of us make the mistake of comparing our lives to the lives of others. If nothing else, the curse that seemed to hover over, haunt, and lurk about the Hemingway family, serves as the perfect demonstration of our skewed perception. We erroneously believe we have a clear comprehension of the trials and adversities of others. We manage to deceive ourselves with the perception that those who are socially and financially successful enjoy some kind of magical pleasure, freedom from adversity, and abstinence of pain.
Regardless of economic or social status, I believe there are two types of people in this world... those who openly share the adversity in their lives - and those who don't. There is no right or wrong approach to mortal existence. However, those who share such complexities in life are easily disillusioned by - what seems to be - the triumphs and success of others (those whose personal demons are neatly tucked away in the closet of obscurity). In sharing, we often erroneously conclude that we are cursed while others are unfairly blessed.
I have come to realize the importance of appreciating life for all that it is... the opportunity it provides to develop cherished relationships, grow in knowledge, and experience spiritual enlightenment.
Although, no two lives are ever the same, in EVERY life there is a test. Some of us choose an "open book" approach that exposes each and every vulnerability, while others choose to work through their difficulties in private. The Hemingway family lived their lives in the "eye of the public" and, therefor, their test was an "open book" - and in many respects - an unfortunate invasion of their privacy. Their experience demonstrates a profound truth... regardless of social status, public notoriety, and personal success - we are all essentially the same. Whether you have been blessed with wealth, or suffer the indignation of a panhandler on the street... no one is granted an exemption from life's test. Through his own personal pain, Hemingway managed to uncover a profound truth...
"Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don't cheat with it."
What does he mean by cheat??? My interpretation...
Carpe Diem... SEIZE THE DAY!
If we choose not to grow through pain in life... we might as well label ourselves "cheaters".'
Without pain, we cannot grow. Without growth, we cannot succeed. Without failure, we would not know success... and, most importantly...